3 Key Steps to Expand Your Culture to New Cities
You don't have to cross your fingers, hoping to stumble upon people who are good cultural fits as you expand. Follow these steps instead.
This article is included in Entrepreneur Voices on Company Culture, a new book containing insights from more than 20 contributors, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders.
So, you're ready to expand: You've done the cost/benefit analysis, scoped out your next city location, acquired the capital and jumped in. Congratulations!
Expansion is exciting and overwhelming -- much the way the early days were for you, when you first dealt with a lot of moving pieces. But, this time, to ensure success now, you have to figure out how to keep your culture strong and intact before you launch your new location.
Take Philz Coffee, for example. Even though the San Francisco-based company has 36 stores, each one feels like a small-town coffee shop. That's the down-home vibe that CEO Jacob Jaber wants to preserve.
So, now, with a new infusion of capital, Philz' expansion's big challenge is to maintain that atmosphere for every location.
Dreaming of similar growth? If you're looking to expand to more cities, it's possible to proactively prepare your new employees to become part of your awesome company culture.
Your first key hire
Before you open for business in another city, your most important hire is the new site's leader. Make sure you have the time and resources to vet all candidates before you make a decision. That means flying them out for extensive interviews and meeting them in their cities to see them in action on their home turf.
If you don't take these crucial precautions, you could end up with a manager who is a poor cultural fit. Leaders at new locations must be strong proponents of your company culture, or they won't be on the same page with headquarters, and that kind of misalignment won't bode well for the future success of a new site. When leaders don't embody core values, you'd better believe no one else in that office will, either.
We learned this the hard way after expanding into what we'll call City A -- we're using the pseudonym to protect the identities of those involved. While we really liked the guy we chose to manage our new site, he wasn't our typical hire. At the time, we thought it would be beneficial to get some fresh perspectives and ideas, and we spent barely any time with him before setting him loose.
In City B, however, things were different: We flew the new manager to our home office for a full week, visited with him regularly and met him at conferences in other cities. In other words, we spent a great deal of time vetting him, and he's been a great asset to our company as a result.
Having invested the time and energy to hire someone we knew was aligned with our culture, we're seeing much more success in City B than in City A. And the effort has been well worth it.
Laying the foundation for cultural expansion
The good news is that you don't have to cross your fingers, hoping to stumble upon people who are good cultural fits as you expand. You can take a few essential steps to ensure your reputation precedes you, and that will help you land the right employees.
1. Show off early and often. When you expand to a new site, you want people (including prospective employees) to know who you are and understand that you have clout. New research from Deloitte suggests that, as one of the top potential threats to employee engagement, employer reputation is a huge factor in attracting and retaining talent.
To prime the market for us and establish the same reputation we enjoy in our home city, we've hosted public events in new cities before launching there. We've considered these to be cultural expressions with which we can show locals and potential employees how our company operates and what we value.
So, do the same: Take that kind of strategy to whatever corner of the market you're trying to conquer. Pump up the leader of your new office in front of the community, and when you finally do put roots down, you'll find that people will be clambering to work there.
2. Replicate communication systems. Digital communication platforms can be amazing for helping you build bridges across offices, states and even countries. Luckily, the tools we use -- the 7Geese digital recognition and engagement platform, and the project management tool Wrike -- have helped us foster a strong sense of cohesion among our distributed team members.
Here's the thing: Even if you're sitting 20 feet away from someone, you might not necessarily give her a high-five after she's done a killer job on something. We suggest that everybody recognize five other people each quarter, as well as post something positive about every client every week within our digital systems. This gets people charged up and helps everyone feel more connected.
Before you expand, make a plan to replicate any digital communication systems your home office uses in satellite offices. Recognizing one another's accomplishments publicly, and celebrating wins together, goes a long way toward unifying culture across distant sites.
3. Give new teams a sneak-peek experience. A satellite office is essentially an island, and before long, employees may begin to feel disengaged from the company as a whole. To preempt this happening, help new folks understand and embrace your culture up-front: Conduct a group activity that aligns with one of your core company values.
Are many of your new site's employees recent college graduates? According to research from Cone Communications, 83 percent of participating millennials said they were more loyal to companies committed to their communities. So, if environmental sustainability is important to you, for instance, you might let your new employees experience your culture firsthand through a volunteer effort to clean up a beloved but polluted river.
This kind of collaboration not only creates camaraderie among different offices, but also helps employees understand how your culture guides their behavior at work. An added bonus is that it might get your group showcased in the local news. (Hello! Free PR!)
Communicating your company culture to new staff members at satellite locations, then, is a critical first step on the road to successful expansion. Your thriving culture is a competitive advantage, and taking the time to plan and replicate it across all your sites is the key to a healthy bottom line and continued growth.